His drinking and drug use increased until he became better known as an eccentric fixture at Studio 54 and on late-night talk shows than as a writer or journalist. For the last 15 years of his life, he claimed to be working on his great American novel, Answered Prayers, but only a few chapters ever appeared in print, and the resulting firestorm over the thinly disguised characters and scandalous stories taken from Capote’s Upper East Side tableaux caused his banishment from the glamorous world he had strived so long to cultivate. Capote died in exile in California in 1984. He was 59. Brando outlived him by 20 years, but they were not happy ones, overall. His son was embroiled in a high-profile murder, and his body of work consisted largely of smaller supporting roles. By his late seventies, he had packed more than 350 pounds on to his 5’9” frame, a victim of excess just as surely as Capote.

After Capote’s profile appeared, Brando rarely spoke with reporters again, and he made only one public comment that I could find about their encounter in Kyoto (it is omitted entirely from his autobiography). In 1978, Lawrence Grobel traveled to Brando’s private island in Tahiti for an extensive talk over 10 days. The topics were wide-ranging, from Brando’s obsession with Native American rights to the OPEC oil embargo. At one point the talk turned to personal matters, which Brando placed off-limits. “I just don’t believe in washing my dirty underwear for all to see, and I’m not interested in the confessions of movie stars.” Most celebrities, Brando noted, just end up hanging themselves with their own words. “Did you feel that way with Capote?” Grobel asked. Brando demurred. “No, he’s too good a writer just to write sensational claptrap,” Brando said. “But he would bend or arrange. . . . Everybody editorializes. It’s inevitable. . . .

“There is something obscene about confessing your feelings and your sentiments for all people to view,” he added. “And who the hell is interested, anyway?”

 

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Douglas McCollam is a contributing editor to CJR.